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Unpacking the news from Microsoft Ignite 2023: updates on Microsoft Copilot, Viva, SharePoint, Teams and more

The current pace of change in the digital workplace remainsrelentless. There are new capabilities, tools, enhancements and options coming left, right and centre, some of which will be far reaching. Generative AI is likely to have a profound impact, in ways that are perhaps unexpected. And the sheer pace of investment and change in Microsoft tools across the digital workplace borders on the overwhelming. While it’s great that there are new possibilities and a continual stream of improvements, it can be challenging for digital workplace teams to keep on top of all that is new, let alone get round to launching and supporting it within the enterprise. Each year Microsoft unveils a range of announcements, often at key conferences, with most being reserved for the annual Ignite conference. This year’s Ignite has just wrapped up and there have been over one hundred announcements, which are listed and summarised in the traditional Ignite Book of News, which itself is a very long document, although handily divided by product. It’s hard to keep on top of everything that has been announced. Microsoft’s tendency to often rebrand existing products doesn’t help, and just as products like Yammer have been renamed to bring them under the Viva brand, existing AI-driven tools are now coming under the Copilot umbrella. In this post we’re going to feature some of the key announcements from Ignite that caught our eye and that will be of most interest to digital workplace teams. But we’re only skimming the surface here; overall, there is a lot to unpack!

1 Copilot launches everywhere

It was perhaps inevitable that generative AI and Microsoft’s multi-billion dollar investment in OpenAI was going to take centre stage in the updates from this year’s Ignite conference, and this is certainly the case. Microsoft Copilot – the brand name for the advanced AI assistant that is being embedded into the majority of Microsoft tools – is coming in multiple forms in 2024. It’s going to potentially change how we experience Microsoft products right across the digital workplace and that applies to everybody – developers, administrators, desk-based users and frontline workers. The breadth of Copliot announcements are simply too numerous and broad to mention everything here. One of the most significant moves is the rebranding of Microsoft Bing Chat and Bing Chat Enterprise to Copilot with added commercial data protection, meaning most users including eventually those on frontline F3 licenses will be able to leverage the power of generative AI everyday, for example with searching. The release of Copilot for Microsoft 365 will also be of major interest to digital workplace teams; it’s already the focus for many current pilots for organisations who are on Microsoft’s Early Access Program. Copilot for 365 automatically inherits an organisation’s security, compliance and privacy settings and embeds Copliot into Word, Excel, PowerPoint., Outlook and more. Additionally, a new Copliot Dashboard helps track effectiveness, and also helps plan deployment. Copilot for Microsoft Teams brings a range of AI-powered tools to support meetings and chats, including:

  • Data visualisations described by participants that can be drawn on the Whiteboard.
  • Notes shared with participants during the meeting that can be shaped by instructions as you go.
  • The ability to use Copliot without the use of transcription if required.
  • The ability to summarise discussion threads and compose posts in Teams chat.
Copilot for Microsoft 365 admin, will help IT admins to manage and extend Microsoft 365 with insights and suggestions. Copilot for Microsoft Viva modules is also launching, initially across the following Viva modules: Insights, Goals, Engage, Learning and Glint. Copilot for Microsoft Power Automate will also help teams to build workflows and automation. Copliot for Power Apps also launches. And it doesn’t stop there with the launch of Copilot for Azure, Copilot for Sales (formerly Viva Sales) a new Copilot for Service, aimed to support contact centre staff and even more.

2 Support for developers to extend the power of Copilot

While Copilot is primed to reach users, there are also moves to help developers and IT admins extend the power of Copilot across the digital workplace with additional plug-ins, meet the specific needs of organisations, as well as establish the right controls and governance. For example, there are new capabilities in the Microsoft 365 admin centre to discover and manage Copilot plug-ins. There is a new Copilot for Microsoft 365 developer sandbox coming to build and test plug-ins, and also extra support for Microsoft partners to develop plug-ins for Copilot. Perhaps the headline development here is the launch of a new Copilot Studio, that will enable the design, test and publishing of specific Copilots to meet the custom needs of organisations around different business applications, for example around HR or management processes. For example, this will allow teams to build sophisticated chatbots that can support users and administrators of these services, as well as customise existing Copilots such as Copilot for Microsoft 365. Note that Copilot Studio absorbs the existing capabilities of Power Virtual Agents, which is being retired as a branded offering. There are also significant updates to Azure that support the extended use of Large Language Models (LLMs), again to build new applications founded on generative AI, or extend AI into existing apps. New updates include a new model catalogue that allows users to discover and fine tune existing LLMs, an integration that allows Microsoft OneLake to be the data lake for LLM-powered apps, the launch of AI Azure Studio,  a new AI service to support computer vision capabilities, extensions to the Azure OpenAI service, new services around search and video indexing, and more!

3 Introducing SharePoint Premium

Two recent habits of Microsoft are to rebrand their services and to introduce more paid-for options within some of its core products. Both these traits are evident with the launch of SharePoint Premium, which is positioned as Microsoft’s “advanced content management and experiences platform” and to a certain degree is a rebranding of SharePoint Syntex. Interestingly, it is also positioned as helping organisations to prepare their content for use in Copilot for Microsoft 365. SharePoint Premium incorporates existing Syntex services, but also adds multiple new and recently announced elements that extend advanced document management practices, some of which are available on a pay-as-you-go basis. Overall, we think the package of new features and enhancements is significant, and will appeal to organisations already using or interested in using Syntex for advanced knowledge management and document management such as managing contracts and other legal documents. It also adds more governance controls that will be necessary as generative AI adds potential risks around document creation and sharing in general. New features include:

  • Extending what you can do with Microsoft Office files in SharePoint’s integrated file viewer, so you can do things like add comments.
  • A new Business Documents app for Teams that provides insights into the lifecycle of documents such as contracts.
  • An AI-driven rules deviation engine and an AI-driven clause analyser to highlight changes and risks to key documents.
  • A new document portal to allow high value documents to be shared with external third parties.
  • A new SharePoint e-signature feature with Adobe Sign and DocuSign integration.
  • Translation for files and Stream video transcripts, as well as a new AI-powered video clean-up feature to remove pauses.
  • Additional changes on the roadmap for 2024 including autofill columns, PII detection, a multilabel classifier and a redaction tool.
  • A new Microsoft Graph API for SharePoint Premium.
There are also a new series of advanced content governance features including a Data Access Governance reporting suite for sensitive documents, the ability to trigger site access reviews with content owners, introduce restricted access policy, detect anomalies and trends such as high-volume sharing and downloads, and more. A previously announced Microsoft 365 Archive facility and a new Microsoft 365 Backup facility that partners with a number of providers complete the relevant updates.

4 New Microsoft Planner

Up to now task management within the Microsoft suite of tools has been divided between Microsoft Planner, Microsoft To Do and Microsoft Project, with considerable overlap across all three. Now Microsoft have announced that they are simplifying the tool landscape by incorporating all three into a new Microsoft Planner experience, initially with a Planner app for Teams to launch in Spring 2024, followed by a web version later in the year. All three existing apps will be renamed and integrated, with To Do and Planner the first to go, and Project after that. This is likely to simplify and streamline task management and provides a single interface for both individuals and teams to create tasks. Inevitably Copilot will also be added, and start to involve suggestions for tasks and the ability to create more ambitious plans. The announcement makes sense and perhaps will increase adoption of the use of the task functionality across the Microsoft suite.

5 Updates to Microsoft Teams

Microsoft Teams remains at the centre of Microsoft’s vision for the digital workplace and a place where much of the Microsoft 365 suite can be experienced. Inevitably, there are some announcements relating to Microsoft Teams, of which perhaps the most interesting relate to the meetings experience. Immersive spaces in Microsoft Teams that leverages Microsoft Mesh is already in preview, but will be generally available in January 2024. This packs features such as avatars, 3D environments, spatial audio, live reactions and even some interactive games. Microsoft Mesh, the framework that helps teams to create 3D events, is also being rolled out for general availability. A useful feature is a new AI-powered voice isolation tool that will be able to pick out one person’s voice in Teams calls and meetings to just filter what they are saying. We can see this being useful for presenters in the meeting without the need for everyone else to go on mute. This is being rolled out for general use in 2024. One announcement that is getting a lot of coverage is the introduction is a new AI-powered “decorate my background” feature for video calls on Teams, that automatically tidies up your background and even adds plants. This is a fun feature but only really “nice to have” and will only be available via Teams Premium. There are also a number of updates to Teams chats and channels including the ability to set default reaction emojis and the ability to forward chat, as well as announcements relating to the Teams web experience including new keyboard shortcuts.

6 Modest updates to the Viva suite

The upgrades and changes to Microsoft Viva over the past two years has been extensive, with the launch of several new apps, with the latest being Viva Amplify. The evolution across Viva since the inaugural four apps has been extensive. In recent months, the focus of Microsoft’s development efforts has clearly been on Copilot, and so the number of announcements relating to Viva in this year’s Ignite are relatively modest. Given that most digital workplace teams are still at a fairly early stage with Viva (with the exception of Viva Engage), we don’t think having a pause in the schedule will particularly be unwelcome. However, there are some changes announced, principally for Viva Engage, including:

  • The ability to publish from Viva Amplify into Viva Engage, which was a glaring gap from the Amplify product.
  • An integration between Viva Goals and Viva Engage, meaning that company goals and OKRs can be referenced better within community discussions, better supporting change management efforts.
  • The ability to pin more than one conversation to the top of a Viva Engage community.
  • The ability to create longer form articles within Viva Engage as a standard content type – a step already announced but coming in early 2024 that will open up Viva Engage to more communications, and allow it as an effective blogging platform.
  • The ability to send leadership communications and announcements with Viva Engage across multiple tenants, a useful feature for complex organisations perhaps built up though acquisition that find themselves with multiple 365 tenants but need to communicate as one.
  • The extension of Microsoft Purview to cover Viva Engage, so users can report conversations.
  • Additional AI services being added into Answers in Viva and the ability to use Answers within Viva Engage communities.
  • Additional network and conversation analytics brought to the Viva suite that add sentiment analysis, for example.
  • And, inevitably, the launch of Copilot for a number of Viva modules, already noted above.
2024 is going to be a busy year! Phew! There is a lot going on in the Microsoft world, much of it bringing generative AI into the digital workplace. Throughout 2024 we’ll be revisiting many of the features and functionality covered in the updates above in this blog. If you’d like to discuss any of these updates and what they meanyou’re your business, then get in touch!

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